Reflection: making space for growth

As the kids have gone back to school it’s given me some much needed time alone to work on myself and my business. I’ve had two coaching sessions in the last week, both for me as the coachee. One with my own coach and another as part of a supervisory session. One of the things I love most about being the coachee is that it can bring a chain reaction of clarifying thoughts, making space for growth.

I, like many others, have been feeling less confident since being in lockdown. Likely a combination of the uncertainty and the inability to do the things I want(ed) to do. There were days where I felt myself slipping backwards in terms of where I wanted to be in terms of my own development. So, I booked a couple of coaching sessions. 

As a coach, my style is to let the coachee do most of the talking, letting them unravel their own thoughts and provide their own solutions. I do this because I have experienced it from the other side and it feels so empowering. The coaching sessions I received were with coaches who allowed me to do this again. Although both sessions were for different reasons, the same thing came up for me. 

Acknowledging what is really going on

The biggest revelation was that I’d been burying my head in the sand. On the surface, this came as a bit of a light bulb moment to me but deep down, I knew. I have been holding myself back, finding excuses not to take the risk of ‘putting myself out there’. Outwardly I said things like ‘Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow’ or ‘I haven’t got time right now – when the kids go back’. Internally I was telling myself I didn’t know what to do or how to get started – because if I did, I would, right?!

So when the lightbulb went off I realised the real issue. I was burying my head on the basis that if I didn’t know, I didn’t have to change. The trouble was that this unknown information was causing me to believe the little voice in my head that said “you’re not enough”, “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “you’re doing it wrong“. Instead, I was spiralling in my own thoughts and although I thought that by not knowing I was free to carry on, in fact, I was constrained by my own limiting beliefs. 

I went into the coaching sessions feeling lost. I thought I wanted to realise my own potential but I didn’t know how. The truth is that I do know how, that I believe I can, it’s just fear is holding me back. And fear can be challenged. 

Making space for growth

Coaching is brilliant for being a safe space for a client to think. For it is in that space where we might release our feelings, sitting with them, acknowledging them and allowing them. I noticed in my session that I felt scared, uncomfortable. I don’t want to reflect because if I do, I’ll have to face what I am afraid of. And yet, I know from past experience that through noticing my feelings, they dissipate. My mind becomes clearer as I challenge the fear and then I have a plan to move forward.

Reflection requires us to consciously consider and analyse our beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning more. The act of reflection allows the brain the opportunity to pause amongst the noise, unravel and sort through observations and experiences. We can consider multiple possible interpretations and create meaning. This meaning forms our learning, informing our future actions. This space is crucial for our growth and development. 

In the days since my session, I’ve come to realise that on the days when I’m working I need to create space for reflection and feedback. I realise I have been cramming work into the time I have and whilst this is great for my short term productivity, it’s not helping me grow. I tell myself that I will reflect tomorrow, but I never find the time, always prioritising something else. 

People who take daily time to think about and plan their day are happier, more.productive and less burned out than those who don’t. Making time to reflect on your day doesn’t need to take long, only ten minutes, you can even do it in three if you’re really busy…but that’s not the point is it? It reminds me of the quote by Sukhraj Dillon:

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

The power of reflection

Reflection requires us to do a number of things that we typically don’t like to do: slow down, embrace the ‘not-knowing’, get curious, tolerate the chaos and take personal responsibility. The process can lead to valuable insights and breakthroughs. It can also lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability and defensiveness. Which is why we typically avoid it! 

We often feel better when we take action. I think of it like travelling. When I’m stuck in traffic sometimes it feels better to take another route. I feel as though I’m moving forward. But, there are times where, if I’d waited, the situation would have resolved and I’d have reached my destination sooner. Or many more times where I reach my destination at the same time or only a minute or two quicker. Reflection can feel like waiting in traffic as everyone else moves on their journey faster than us. 

When I take that other route, it feels like a better investment of my time. But time moves regardless. Sometimes trying to find a new route actually makes my journey more stressful than if I just relax and listen to music or read a book (if I’m a passenger). All it takes is a change of perspective on what’s more important to us and also what’s within our control. 

Although it can feel difficult, the impact of making space for growth and reflection is clear. As Peter Drucker said:

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”


Tips for conscious reflection

There is no right way to reflect. You could choose a formal session or choose to journal your thoughts or write a daily gratitude prompt. You might choose to chat with a friend or colleague – do plan this though so you don’t just end up chatting! You can sit quietly, stand, walk, run. Inside or outside, whatever works for you. 

The most important thing is to commit to reflecting and schedule a time to do it. You might choose a shorter daily time or a longer weekly/monthly session depending on your goals. If you find yourself skipping or rescheduling…you’ll need to reflect on that! 

If setting an hour-long session feels hard, start smaller. Five minutes is a good starting point. You might choose to incorporate it into another ritual you already have, like your morning cuppa or whilst you brush your teeth before bed. Set yourself up for success! 

The purpose is to examine your own thinking so you can grow. So, create a list of questions, consider different perspectives. Be still and think. Mind map. Look at the opposite of what you believe. You don’t have to like or agree with what comes up, only to stay curious. You could choose questions such as: 

  • What am I avoiding? 
  • How am I helping others achieve their goals? 
  • How am I hindering my own/others’ progress?
  • What is the purpose of that behaviour?
  • How could I be more effective? 
  • What am I afraid of? 
  • What would [insert role model] do in this situation?

Finally, consider who could help you. For most leaders, a lack of time, experience, skill or even desire can get in the way of reflection. Asking a colleague, mentor or coach to help you make time, listen carefully, be a thought partner or mirror can hold you accountable. IT all makes space for growth.


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